The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9).
Crowds enjoy seeing troops marching. They are quick to cheer. Usually, that is good. But sometimes it causes resentment. Consider these words, written by a British soldier in WWI:
“You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.” (Siegfried Sassoon)
The cheering people would have been shocked and confused by these words. They thought they were doing something good; something that would show encouragement.
Why, then, did the soldier write, “You smug-faced crowds…”? Why the anger? Those who lined the roads to cheer had no idea of what the troops were marching into. No idea of the desperation of those who had already been on the front lines. No idea of how much they did not want to go where the march would end.
Come to think of it, neither did the Palm Sunday crowds. Those who watched Jesus heading to Jerusalem had no clue that Jesus was riding to torture and execution. No understanding of what really was taking place.
By Friday, the crowds would again gather. This time they would include women weeping and wailing at the sight of the bloody, stumbling Jesus. They would wonder at his words, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28).
Again, they did not understand.
His later words were: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). A response far different from, “You smug-faced crowds…”
Those who are willing to step into harm’s way to defend a nation will regularly encounter people who do not understand. If that step brings one into the theater of war, the lack of understanding will escalate. Misconceptions will abound. Feelings will be hurt. Anger may arise. Don’t let it.
The only way someone else could clearly know what the warrior went through is if that person had been there. Would we want our spouse, or parents, or neighbors to have done that?
It’s understandable that they do not understand. If we are tempted to think that this is unfair, the example of Jesus will set us straight. We can say, “Jesus loves me.” We can know, “Jesus saved me.” We can sing: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.” But we can never fully understand what Jesus went through to rescue us.
That much we do understand. We will not stand smug-faced as we review the march of Jesus to his death. We will smile, however. We already know that this ends not with the grave or hell. Jesus was heading for heaven—and there, we will join him.
We will stand with his cheering crowds.
We pray: Jesus, Son of God and Savior, we look on in wonder as the story of your life is brought before our eyes in the sacred Scriptures. We cannot begin to imagine your pain and sacrifice. We cannot envision the depth of your love. You are beyond our understanding. But the Holy Spirit has worked in us a saving faith. Accept our words of praise. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military